Journalist Gulchehra Hoja on the ‘Incredibly High Price’ of Reporting on China’s Uyghur Oppression

Power Women Summit 2020: Hoja and Syrian reporter Yakeen Bido discuss the personal and professional risks that come with reporting on global atrocities — and why they have to persist

Last Updated: December 10, 2020 @ 12:06 PM

Syrian journalist Yakeen Bido and Uyghur American journalist Gulchehra Hoja, two recipients of the 2020 International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, joined TheWrap’s Power Women Summit Thursday to discuss the personal and professional risks they take reporting on atrocities carried out by repressive authoritarian states.

The discussion, “Journalists on the Front Lines,” was introduced by IWMF executive director Elise Lees Muñoz and moderated by Nima Elbagir, CNN senior international correspondent and a past IWMF Courage award recipient.

Elbagir kicked it off by asking about the “cross-section” female journalists occupy: harassment from “malevolent actors” and misogyny within the industry and beyond it.

“If you are a female journalist exposing the crimes of an authoritarian state in China, you will definitely pay an incredibly high price for your work,” said Hoja, who extensively covers China’s brutal repression of its Uyghur population. “Anonymous threats and your family members in the hands of the state are taken hostage to force you to give in.”

She explained that her family has faced surveillance and harassment because of her work and that her own relatives — including children — “disappeared” into what, she says, the Chinese government calls “re-education camps.” She said that though her family is suffering because of her work, she feels compelled to continue because her employer, Radio Free Asia, “is the only voice for Uighur people,” a Muslim minority in China facing detainment.

Through Elbagir’s translation, Bido, a feminist and pro-democracy activist who reports on repression in Syria, explained that in her work reporting on the country’s political, military and humanitarian issues, she is not only speaking on behalf of the disenfranchised people there who may not be able to speak for themselves, but on behalf of herself, as well.

Hoja said she, “of course,” feels the same, and sees her ability to understand the language and culture of those affected in China as a benefit, given how difficult it is to get news from the country, where the media is so strictly regulated and tied to the state.

Ultimately, Hoja said, “You have to [persist] because voice matters … We are the voice. We are free. We speak the truth. Nobody can stop us. I need to continue — for myself, for my family, for my people.”

Watch the powerful “Journalists on the Front Lines” conversation, presented by the IWMF, above.

The Power Women Summit, presented by the WrapWomen Foundation, is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The Summit aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s all-virtual PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe to promote “Inclusion 360,” this year’s theme.